Dozens of Chinese writers and dissidents have decried the closing of an Internet Web site they said was one of the few refuges for relatively unfettered views in their censorship-bound country.
In recent days, the Century China Web site has disappeared from computer screens. Over the past six years, the site was a popular forum for liberal critics of the ruling Communist Party, often relaying discussions of social and political ills
Yesterday, more than a hundred intellectuals and critics of the Chinese government issued a petition that blamed the closure on the state's tightening control of the media and opinion.
The statement follows the closure by Beijing authorities of Century China (www.cc.org.cn) and an associated discussion forum (www.ccforum.org.cn) last week.
The 103 signatories included well-known intellectuals such as dissident writers Liu Xiaobo (
"We understand very well that ... government administrative power has the most damaging effect on free speech," the statement posted on the US-based boxun.com Web site said.
"This is why we must voice our clear and strong protest," the statement added.
"The closure of Century China ... has ruined the last oasis of knowledge on China's Internet," it said.
The move marks the Chinese government's latest attempt to rein in the free flow of information on the Internet to prevent the spread of ideas considered too sensitive by the authorities.
Gao Yu, who spent seven years in jail for her writings, said the government's draconian measures to crack down on free speech had gone too far.
"It's the intellectuals' responsibility to think and to voice their opinions," said the winner of UNESCO's Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom award in 1997.
"[The freedom of speech situation] has regressed to worse than the Mao Zedong (
The Century China Web sites offered information on current affairs and allowed users to freely express opinions and post commentaries on political issues and social problems, such as democracy and the plight of farmers.
One of its most popular forums had 30,000 registered members, Century China said earlier.
The Web sites were jointly set up by a Beijing research institute and the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Institute of Chinese Studies in 2000.
The Beijing Communications Administration ordered the closure of the Web sites last month on the grounds that they were not licensed to provide news and information.